Animal Tales: How to introduce cats to each other

Kittens, such as these that were kept together at the Whatcom Humane Society, usually are easier to introduce to other cats than a cat who has been the sole animal in a household.
Kittens, such as these that were kept together at the Whatcom Humane Society, usually are easier to introduce to other cats than a cat who has been the sole animal in a household. The Bellingham Herald

Question: What is the best way to introduce a new cat into a household with other cats?

Answer: Slow and steady wins the race when introducing cats. Cats can be very territorial and need time to adjust to new four-legged arrivals in their household. Cat owners must be willing to have realistic expectations when bringing a new cat home. Change of any kind can be difficult for cats, and each cat will react differently to even small changes in their environment.

For example, an older female cat living in a household with no other animals is most likely going to have a more difficult time adjusting to a new cat – especially if that cat is another mature female or dominant male. A young kitten or cat that has been living with other cats introduced into a household with another younger cat or cats might acclimate more quickly and easily.

Some cats manage to find common ground with new feline arrivals in a few days, while others may take weeks or even months before they can peacefully co-exist. A slow introduction can help prevent many behavior issues from taking place and will help all feline residents in the household adjust.

Confine your new cat to a room with food, water, a litter box, toys, a bed and other comforts. This will allow the new cat to adjust to the scents and sounds of its new household and also will alert the resident cat(s) that they have a new friend joining the group.

Start the cat/cat introduction by swapping scents like sleeping blankets, beds and toys between the resident cat(s) and the new cat arrival so they can get used to each other’s scent before a face-to-face meet and greet.

Slowly allow the cats visual access to each other, supervised for short periods of time. If possible include a reward, such as a treat or canned food during these introductions so all the cats involved associate their new feline friends with something positive. Give all cats in the household lots of attention, petting and interactive playtime before, during and after these visual interactions. Increase access to the cats as you feel comfortable and as the cats’ behavior around each other remains calm and relaxed.

Expect minor behavior issues, incidents and vocalizing between the cats to occur – this is normal – but don’t allow these behaviors to intensify. Avoid and safely stop interactions between the cats if you see any of the cats becoming fearful or aggressive. If this behavior is allowed, it can increase and will be difficult to change. Take a step back and start the introduction process over if fighting or other aggressive behavior escalates.

When adding a new cat to the household, also add another litter box. This will help minimize territorially issues and give all the cats in the household more options for privacy.

Make sure your household has opportunities and availability for cats to get away from each other and hide if they feel like it. Multiple cat trees, beds, toys, boxes (cats love boxes!) and other items will allow each cat to feel secure, safe and provide areas for them to have alone time.

In some cases, cat owners may want to consider using a product like Feliway (a synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone used by cats to mark their territory as safe and secure) to help reduce stress and tension between household cats. Talk to your veterinarian or knowledgeable local pet supply store employees about products like Feliway and other products available that might be beneficial to stressed feline family members.

Of course, making sure all cats in the household are spayed or neutered will significantly increase your chances at having a positive and happy multi-cat family. If you need help getting your cat fixed, contact your local veterinarian or the Whatcom Humane Society for assistance.

Animal Tales is a regular column written by Laura Clark, executive director of the Whatcom Humane Society. The society provides care and services to homeless, unwanted, orphaned and abused domestic and native wild animals in need. Have a question to ask? Email questions for this column to director@whatcomhumane.org. For information on the society, go to whatcomhumane.org.